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Plans for Harpers Ferry museum shelved for now

February 21, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A planned museum in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., that would have been home to artifacts from across the country is off the drawing board - at least temporarily - according to a local National Park Service official and the head of the agency.

There were concerns about the size of the project and lack of National Park Service funds to run it.

Bradley Gray, a spokesman for a group of developers working to purchase the former Old Standard Quarry property where the museum would have been built, emphasized Wednesday that the museum idea is out of consideration only for this year.

Gray is a spokesman for Stonewall Heights LLC, a development group that proposed to build a museum on top of a mountain in the area of the former quarry operation off Millville Road.

The National Park Service has a large number of artifacts related to personalities and places such as Ford's Theatre, President Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, The museum would have been used to house such artifacts, officials with the project have said.

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There was concern that a previous office space project proposed for the site would negatively affect nearby Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the museum was proposed to be built into a mountain to hide it.

Stonewall Heights developers were proposing to build the museum and lease it to the park service.

Officials were waiting to determine if U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., could secure federal funding for the museum.

In a letter to Byrd on Jan. 29, Mary A. Bomar, director of the National Park Service, wrote that the service was being asked to lease the building for $12.5 million a year for 20 years, a $250 million outlay.

That amount of money is not available now and the developers wanted a financial commitment before April 30, Bomar wrote.

There would be additional costs to the National Park Service, including staffing and maintaining it, Bomar said in her letter.

"All of these facilities would be new or significantly larger than the current National Park Service operational capacity at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, necessitating budget increases that cannot be assured at this time," Bomar told Byrd.

Bomar also said she has not seen any feasibility studies that support claims by Stonewall Heights members that as many as 1 million people annually would visit the new museum.

Although Bomar said she appreciated the creative approach behind the museum, it has a cost "that we cannot support," according to her letter.

Officials in Bomar's office could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Donald Campbell, superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Park, said the museum idea has been dropped, as has any National Park Service involvement in the project.

Campbell said the developers are pushing ahead with a development of a hotel on the property and preserving the land around the site.

The hotel could be used for business associated with the National Park Service or U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which operates a training facility nearby along U.S. 340, Campbell said.

Gray said he could not comment on other possible components of the development project.

Gray said the size of the hotel would depend on market demand.

Despite the concerns raised by Bomar about the museum idea, Gray remained upbeat about the development project.

"This is just one communication regarding one of the many options being discussed. The community, and our elected officials, still support saving Old Standard," Gray said.

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